Libertines@ Brixton Academy 2004

This was my brothers first ever gig, and my first time of seeing The Libertines. A band both of us have now seen countless times. I was 15, he was only just 13. In retrospect that is all kinds of lunacy. The actual show was a blur. An assault on my senses. To this day I don’t remember being so packed into a gig. Seeing drugs being used for the first. Getting a slap for being sarcastic to someone, who I’d now recognise, as want for a better word, fucked. The noise and the excitement in the room as the first chords got hit. A fever pitch that never died. I remember us being close to the front, just to the left. Memories of the actual songs have long vanished. I remember the band crowd surfing at the end. That’s a pretty big thing at our age. To see your heroes lose themselves, and to get close, and to touch them. 

You probably can’t view any gig objectively at that age (I’d argue you shouldn’t look to treat any gig objectively, and the best gigs are those, that leave you feeling something after, no matter how accomplished they might be), but it clearly had an impact on us. An impact on me which has meant I’m reliving memories from nearly 15 years ago on my way to work. 

 

 

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Lykke Li @ Koko 28th November 2008

I fell in love with Lykke Li’s debut album after hearing a song in Banquet (soooo many stories like this for me and I make no apologies). 

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a live show, considering the album was mainly quite understated pop. However she lit up a miserable November night quite spectacularly. Dance moves, extravagant (and I truly mean that), meant the show was much more enjoyable than I thought. At the time I remember saying it was one of the best gigs of 2008, and looking through all the gigs I went too I can’t remember many more that were better.

Peter Doherty @ Royal Albert Hall

2008, and Doherty is maybe just getting to the other side of his tabloid peak(?!). He wants to be taken seriously again. His friendship with Barât slightly repaired, Shotters Nation (his 2nd Babyshambles album) has received good reviews, and he was working on a solo project. But of course, if you want to be a serious artist and shake off the headlines, you need to play an acoustic set at Royal Albert Hall.

It was enjoyable, if not slightly bizarre. A large number of the crowd hankering for a show more reminiscent of his Libertines and Babyshambles gigs, shocked to discover it was an all seated affair, with little fanfare. The 2nd shock of the night was him coming bang on the advertised time, strolling on stage (with binoculars), looking dapper in the now trademark suit and Trilby. The start of the gig went without to much fanfare until someone on the front row decided to take a phone call mid song. Doherty promptly stopped the gig and called the guy out. Said guy told him to do one, and then lobbed a bottle at him. Doherty went to retaliate before security stepped/bundled in and took the guy out. The rest of the gig - 27 songs! - went off without a hitch. Whisper it, it was almost too safe...

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Wolfman joined the stage for For Lovers, which is one of the most special songs to me, and I can’t remember it all, which is how forgettable that part of the night wash. Babyshambles guitarist Mik Whitnall joined for the encore. Helping beef up Fuck Forever, Albion (always a highlight), and I Wish. A simple Ska number which had become a firm fan favourite, and typical set closer. IF Royal Albert Hall has had a stage invasion before, I’ve yet to hear about it, but, as the night nearly ended without controversy, a few fans forced their way onto the stage, not that the stewards put up too much resistance. I assume because usually they’re accustomed to showing people where the toilets are, not trying to prevent a 19 year old kid get close to their hero. Of course, once the first few were on, it triggered a domino affect. To be fair, it all seemed in good spirit, and you could just about make out the odd bit of the guitar riff still, and the “Woah” chant that accompanies it. I remember seeing someone on stage with a motorbike helmet, and sort of remember seeing a moped on stage, but really can’t recall if this is just a fragment of my imagination that I’ve created to add some more lunacy to the event.

As we waited at the bus stop outside after, a succession of police cars continued to pull outside, presumably to try and get some sort of order inside. 

Doherty now long gone, probably on a moped somewhere, had reminded the public that he was still very much a song writer that had to be taken seriously, but also that controversy, whether encouraged or not, was never going to be far behind. Possibly why even now there is so much interest in him. 

Mystery Jets @ The Garage 26th September 2017

21 is one of my favourite albums ever. It’s a near perfect indie pop album, that 10 years later still excites me. It’s got 2 genuine classic singles in 2 Doors Down and Young Love (featuring Laura Marling) but has a dark undercurrent. 

So when the Mystery Jets, perhapss one of our most undervalued bands in Britain, announced they’d be doing a residency, in the Garage, playing all of their albums in full, it wasn’t even up for question that we’d go. 

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For someone who’s been to so many gigs it was the first gig I can remember going to at the Garage, which I discovered was a great venue. Small  (600 capacity), good sound, plenty of space, and a big bar.

It wasn’t just one of my favourite gigs of 2017, but one of the funnest gigs I’ve ever been too. It was a pure celebration. I was 20 (nearly 21) when the album was released, and like many there, it was a chance to relive those times. Similar to The Maccabees, Mystery Jets were a band a lot of people have an affinity with. They feel like they’ve grown up with them, because by and large, their songs are documenting the experiences we all go through at some stage (It was fitting they supported The Maccabees on their farewell gigs). There wasn’t a person in the room not smiling and singing throughout. Every song giving a reaction that is usually only reserved for a bands biggest single. A lot of the songs being aired for the first time in 7 years, sometimes nearly a decade, and Twenty One getting its live debut. The biggest cheers though were reserved for the special guests.

Laura Marling joining the band for Young Love. I’ve seen the band countless times, Young Love  is my wife’s favourite song, and nearly every time she’s convinced herself that LM will join. Of course she rarely/never does. The night wouldn’t have been complete without her. It’s a fantastic song anyway, but Laura’s sweet vocals take the song to the next sphere.

The encore was due to be made up of songs from the rest of their albums, which maybe provoked the tiniest of lulls, but before that came a real highlight, and this was a night of many, many highlights. Henry, Blaine’s (the singer) father joined on stage, not for the first time in their careers, to join Blaine in the first ever live rendition of Twenty One, the hidden track of the album. A simple, yet beautiful horrid, in a way only the best songs can be. A plea for a friend to not cause themselves any harm. Watching a father and son, on stage together, playing such a song together is quite the song.

Elsewhere in the encore,  Kai Fish who’d left the band 5 years previous came out to join the band on bass duties. While looking incredibly nervous, it was a testament to the love for the band, that a bass player who’d left so long ago was treated like a long lost hero.

Not one person came out the venue without a smile. Music can provoke a lot of reactions, but it’s rare to unite one audience in a way that could have a whole room, arm in arm, beaming at each other, high-fiving. The sort of gig you never forget, and will bury itself into your heart, much like the album did 10 years ago.

The National @ Royal Festival Hall Monday 10th August 2009

I wouldn’t say I was late to The National. In fact, I think in UK Terms I was relatively early to them. A forum I used to post on regularly had a couple of posters who loved Boxer, and were regularly saying that it was not just the best album of the year (2007) but probably of the noughties. To start with I confused them with a band called Grand National who I didn’t really “get” and then thought, nothing could possibly be this good so I’m not going to even bother.

I eventually gave it the time it deserved in late 2007. I probably in my most rabid Radiohead phase at that point, so some new morose was just what the doctor ordered.

 The National at RFH on a terrible camera phone. 

The National at RFH on a terrible camera phone. 

I first caught The National headline The John Peel stage in 2008, with not many people watching, and have continued to follow them (I think I’ve seen them on every tour they’ve done since Boxer).

Royal Festival Hall was the first headline gig of theirs I saw. I’d previously done some work at a small record label, and someone I knew connected to the label was also a massive fan and managed to get us 2 free tickets in a box over looking the stage. I also happened to be sitting next to Felix from The Maccabees, who happened to be my favourite new band at that time.

Needless to say, I was in my element. Watching this incredible band of musicians,  the drums not just keeping everyone in check but driving the songs, the layers of music created. It was perfect. Matt Berninger was still a reluctant front man at this stage. Nervous. Not knowing what to do when he wasn’t singing, shuffling slightly awkwardly facing the band, sipping/guzzling his way through a bottle of wine (which if memory serves me right, was used as a makeshift drum late in the gig), gradually warming to the task, engaging with the audience, telling, no, demanding them, to get up from their seats, before eventually walking into and beyond the audience while singing Mr November in the Encore. Now it’s a regular part of any National gig, and one of the most enjoyable, as you wonder just how far he’ll go, and the lengths fully grown adults will go to get near their hero. But here, it was still spontaneous, thrilling. Everything live music should be.

Friendly Fires @ Coronet 11th December 2009

I’ve talked previously about Friendly Fires blurring the lines between indie and dance, not just with their song writing, but the culture and their live shows.

This was one of the shows they did that saw them take that a step up. Not content with just  doing a late night show in December, they curated a whole event, in an old cinema in Elephant and Castle with a late license. A celebration of the year they had touring their debut album. Different rooms, different DJ’s going through the whole night. Friendly Fires came on at midnight and had DJ’s playing long after they’d finished. It was one of the first nights I’d been to like it, and helped open my eyes to new music, and that live music was more than just a few blokes playing guitars.

Oh, and Friendly Fires confirmed that they were a band fast approaching their pomp as their live show continued to go from strength to strength.   Ed’s dancing now backed by the confidence the bands success has bought them, has an extra oomph. The lighting.  Confetti firing out at the end of Paris.  Carnival dancers.

It was their last gig for a long time (not as long as the lost recent hiatus mind!) and was a worth celebration.

Jamie T @ New Slang September 2016

New Slang is an institution for many of my friends and I... I'm planning on writing a much longer piece about the importance of it.

I'd missed the previous Jamie T gig in Kingston because my job at the time made me go to Berlin on a work trip. They promptly announced they were making me redundant the day after I got. There is a chance I ended up at 2 gigs in 2 nights (The Libertines), the day before. It wasn't really the behaviour of a new father. Nor was steaming down to the front when he opened with Tinfoil Boy, and proceeding to stay, and mosh, for the rest of the gig. To the point my t-shirt was un-saveable from the sweat. I recall very few gigs that have had the crowd go so nuts at the start, and keep it going for near entire set.

Jamie T, from Wimbledon, just a couple of miles away, was something of a prodigal son for Kingston. As prodigal as someone can be when they continue to return to play for Banquet Records every time they have a new release. But even so, he was greeted like a long lost brother, and he repaid the crowd back in kind.

It impressive that he has retained his crowd from over 10 years, since the release of Panic Prevention (and the Demo's well before that!) and still a staple part of any young budding indie kid, meaning that new tunes such as Drone Strike, are received just as well as the older classics such as Sheila. 

The Weeknd @ Electric Ballroom, Sunday 24th March 2013

I'd firstly got into The Weeknd in 2011. Someone had sent me his first Mix Tape (House of Balloons) and I never listened to it. On a holiday in Turkey, I'd taken my laptop, and was going through my music collection, where I found an album with artwork of a naked girl, surrounded by Balloons. Upon the first song, I was taken into a world of sleazy RnB, that was unlike anything I'd heard at the time. I became mesmerised, and was spent most of the holiday absorbing it.

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Bar one very small gig previously in 2012, this was his first UK tour (he sold our the O2 in November later that year), so was chuffed to get tickets for the Monday. I had a stag do in Madrid over the weekend, so was looking forward to a heavy weekend, a day off, then a gig in the evening. Upon picking the tickets for the gig up on the Thursday morning (I flew out Thursday evening), I realised I'd book the tickets for Sunday night (I was due to land early Sunday evening). My Fiancé (now wife), reasoned that I'd be coming home tired, stinking of alcohol, probably still drunk, and wouldn't be great company, plus I'd not been this excited about a gig in ages, and she had work in the morning, so I should probably go. So I dropped my suitcase off and was straight on the train into Camden.

The gig itself was everything I'd expected and more. His vocals, as good live as on the album. His Band, not only replicating the songs, but turning them into beasts. It's rare that a drummer can nearly steal the show, and less so, 5 years later still remember the drummer, was he so good. For a Sunday night crowd in London, they were singing every word, dancing to every beat. I think everyone knew they were witnessing a talent that could go on to be something massive... quite as massive he became? Maybe not. 

His live shows now are still brilliant, but very different to what this was. They have to be, at £70 a ticket, in front of 20,000 people they have to be. But I don't think any show will beat this. 

p.s. Sorry the only photo I have of the gig was so terrible!

Arcade Fire @ Wembley Thursday 12th April

I wasn’t quite sure if I was planning on going to this gig. There’d been some confusion on the date we were meant to be going, and after seeing them less than a week previous in Dublin, which ventured on gig perfection, I wasn’t sure if I had the lust to risk tainting those memories. 

And while it didn’t quite hit the heady heights of Dublin (one of my favourite gigs of all time), this still cemented Arcade Fire as one of the best live bands in the world. 

They pull off ok aying in “The Round”, in the boxing ring set up to perfection. I’ve seen previous bands try without really nailing it. Arcade Fire have so much going on that you never feel like you’re missing out when Win or Regine (singers) are at the other side of the stage. The light show is tremendous and the energy on stage is second to none.

In Dublin they were on fire from the entrance. This time they took a little longer to get going. The crowd maybe unfamiliar with the set up not fully getting into it, but from the No Cars Go onwards, it was brilliant.

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Crown of Love and Ocean of Noise (a personal favourite) were added to the set list from Dublin. Unfortunately it was one of the weaker points in the evening, with signs appearing above the stage directing the crowd to turn their phone lights on, and no other light show to speak of throughout the song. Oceans of Noise is a dark song, it builds and it swirls, and the lights should have added to that. Unfortunately the lights took the emotion out of the song. However, if that’s the weak moment of a gig then you know you’re doing ok.

Jarvis Cocker made an appearance in the encore to do “Cunts are Running The World”, which while slightly too long was an enjoyable moment (the other London gigs had Chrissie Hynde, Florence Welsh and Boy George!).- 

They finished with the ever inspiring Wake Up. 10,000 people with their arms in the air, the band still showing the energy of much younger bands making their debut song. As the band conga’d through the crowd to its concluding, with the crowd singing along, and once again, finding myself arm in arm with my friends (and strangers), not only did I have no regrets about going, but wondered if I’d get away with going on the Friday as well!